Picks for 2020 NFL Midseason Awards

Kansas+City+Chiefs+quarterback+Patrick+Mahomes+%2815%29+passes+against+the+Carolina+Panthers+during+the+first+half+of+an+NFL+football+game+in+Kansas+City%2C+Mo.%2C+Sunday%2C+Nov.+8%2C+2020.+%28AP+Photo%2FJeff+Roberson%29

USA Today

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) passes against the Carolina Panthers during the first half of an NFL football game in Kansas City, Mo., Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Zach Schiller, Sports Editor

With a little over half of the 2020 NFL season in the books, it feels appropriate to hand out some predictions for this year’s major awards. Through nine weeks of play, a couple of individuals and teams have begun to separate themselves, and are worthy of recognition as the current frontrunners to take home some hardware at the NFL honors in February.

MVP: Patrick Mahomes

While Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson was the most talked-about MVP candidate over the first couple of weeks, he and his team have taken their lumps over the last few weeks. Wilson threw three interceptions and was outdueled by sophomore phenom Kyler Murray in the teams 37-34 overtime loss to the Cardinals, followed by a four turnover outing against Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills last Sunday. While there is no denying that Wilson is having an excellent season, he is no longer the MVP frontrunner at this moment. That honor currently belongs to reigning Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes. Although only in his third season as a starter, Mahomes has established himself as the new face of the NFL. He is the only quarterback to win a regular-season MVP and a Super Bowl MVP before the age of 25 and has shown no signs of slowing down this season. His Chiefs are off to a 7-1 start and are squarely in position to capture their third consecutive number one seed in the American Football Conference (AFC) playoffs. With respect to his numbers, Mahomes has thrown for the second-most yards and touchdowns in the league thus far and has thrown only one interception all season, the lowest total in the league. His unique blend of athleticism, arm talent, and decision making makes him almost impossible to game plan against and should result in the second MVP of his young career.

Defensive Player of the Year: Myles Garret

After having his spectacular season last year cut short by the infamous helmet swinging incident, the former first overall pick has responded in a big way for his Cleveland Browns this season, who currently sit at 5-3. Garrett is currently tied with two-time defensive player of the year Aaron Donald for the league lead at nine sacks this season. However, Garrett has more solo tackles and forced fumbles (he leads the league) on the season than Donald. The race for defensive player of the year will almost certainly come down to these two, but I have to give the slight edge to Garrett at this point. If he keeps up this level of play throughout the season, it will be tough for the voters to deny him his first defensive player of the year award.

Rookie of the Year: Joe Burrow

After enjoying arguably the greatest single-season in college football history, this Heisman Trophy winner and number one overall draft pick has been a revelation for the historically hapless Cincinnati Bengals. While Joe Burrow has not enjoyed nearly the same success in terms of wins and losses this season, he has already helped the Bengals equal their win total from last season with half of the season still to go, recently notching the most impressive win of his young career against the AFC South-leading Tennessee Titans. What has stood out most through Burrow’s rookie season, beyond the impressive statistics, has been his poise and maturity. Becoming the face of a franchise as a rookie quarterback is never easy, but the kid from Athens, Ohio is up to the task. With the exception of a tough loss against the Baltimore Ravens, the Bengals have not lost a game by more than five points this season, a testament to Burrow’s leadership and the confidence he instills in his teammates. For the first time in a long time, the future is bright in Cincinnati.

Coach of the Year: Mike Tomlin

While I was tempted to go with Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores for this award, it is only right to give Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin his due. After miraculously guiding a team quarterbacked by Mason Rudolph and Devlin “Duck” Hodges to an 8-8 record last season, Tomlin has followed that up by leading his team to an undefeated record of 8-0 to start the season, the only unbeaten team left in the NFL. The return of comeback player of the year favorite Ben Rothelsberger has revitalized the Steelers offense, as has his host of young receivers to throw to including rookie breakout Chase Claypool. Running back James Conner has been a reliable presence in the ground game and the defense yet again looks like one of the premier units in the NFL. And while roster talent certainly plays a role in winning games, it is because of Tomlin’s coaching the Steelers are still undefeated. He is the second longest-tenured head coach in the league behind Bill Belichick and the stability he provides for his team really showed in recent close wins against the Titans and division rival Ravens. Long underrated despite his annual success, Tomlin has pushed all of the right buttons so far this season and looks primed to add another coach of the year award to his hardware collection. 

Most Improved Team: Miami Dolphins

While the easy answer would be the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the real most improved team lies just a couple of hours south on Interstate 75. The Miami Dolphins have surprised many league observers this season and have already matched their win total from a season ago, with eight games still left to play. And while the roster talent has improved from a season ago, the main reason for the Dolphins turnaround has been head coach Brian Flores. Following his defensive masterpiece in the Patriots Super Bowl victory over the high-powered Los Angeles Rams offense, Flores moved across the division to coach the floundering Dolphins, who have not won a playoff game since 2000. Despite the lack of roster talent, Flores got his team to buy into his philosophy of toughness, discipline and togetherness as the team somehow scraped together five wins last season. Not only are the Dolphins set to surpass that total this season, but they sit only two games behind the division-leading Buffalo Bills, and would be the last wild card team if the season ended today. Rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s insertion into the starting lineup raises the ceiling of this team even further. The team has won five of their last six games, with the one loss coming to from Seattle by one score, and has a series of winnable games upcoming with the Chargers, Broncos, Jets and Bengals. Dare I say it, the Dolphins are actually starting to look like a good team.